The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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The Bells Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Bells Include:

“The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe is one of his more well-known poems, after masterpieces like “The Raven”, of course. “The Bells” is most often interpreted as an allegory for the seasons of life, from the beautiful silver bells of youth to the frightening iron church bells that toll old age and death. The eeriness of the subject matter of the poem becomes evident when the reader realizes that this poem was submitted for publication by Poe in 1848, and was published shortly after his death in 1849. The poem deals with themes like fear of death, and the inevitable progression of the life cycle from youth to death.

The Bells Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

“The Bells” TPCASTT Analysis

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Poetry is one of the most expressive forms of literature. It can evoke emotions, set a mood, tell a story, or create a deeply and universally understood feeling in its readers. This makes expounding its elements, and understanding its rich meaning, comparisons, and symbols, even more important.

The TP-CASTT method of poem analysis is a great way to teach students to dissect a poem and understand its parts. It helps students to uncover the deeper meanings within poems while giving them the confidence to be self-educators. TPCASTT Poetry Analysis is an order of operations similar to PEMDAS for math. It asks students to list items in sequential order and answer questions based on their reading of the poem.

TPCASTT Example for “The Bells”



The title sounds like it might be about bells. But, what kind of bells? School bells? Church bells? Sleigh bells?


The first and second sections deal with silver and golden bells. Both toll for happy reasons, like life and marriage. The third and fourth section describe menacing bells, ones to be fearful of. The brazen bells are frightening, and the iron bells sound like they are tolling for Death.


The narrator repeats the word “bells” over and over again, each time combining it with sounds each kind of bell would make. Silver bells tinkle and jingle; golden bells rhyme and chime; brazen bells clang and crash and roar in warning; iron bells toll and moan and groan in despair.


The narrator’s tone is upbeat and optimistic in the first two sections; in the last two, the narrator’s tone is fearful, sad, and defeated.


The major shift in the poem comes between the second and third sections, where the happy bells turn into ones of warning and sadness, from early life and marriage to aging and death.


The title is about the different kinds of bells in life, from the silvery tinkling bells of youth, to the tolling iron bells of death.


The theme of the poem is that death ultimately triumphs over life, and every person faces the same journey through each phase of bells.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Perform a TPCASTT analysis of “The Bells”. Remember that TPCASTT stands for Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitude/Tone, Shift, Title, Theme.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose any combination of scenes, characters, items, and text to represent each letter of TPCASTT.
  3. Write a few sentences describing the importance or meaning of the images.
  4. Finalize images, edit, and proofread your work.
  5. Save and submit storyboard to assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Literary Elements in “The Bells”

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When teaching poems, it is often helpful to refresh or introduce students with technical words. “Metaphor", "alliteration", "personification", "imagery", "apostrophe", and "assonance" are a few important terms.

After you have read the poem, ask your students to do a scavenger hunt using the Storyboard Creator. Give them the list again and have them create a storyboard that depicts and explains the use of each literary element in the poem. They will have an absolute blast and gain mastery of the words.

"The Bells" Literary Elements

Alliteration Repetition of consonant sounds at the beginnings of words in a sentence or line “Runic rhyme”
Personification Giving human-like characteristics to non-human objects or abstract ideas ”For every sounds that floats / From the rust within their throats / Is a groan.”
Imagery The use of descriptive or figurative language to create vivid mental imagery that appeals to the senses “Yet, the ear distinctly tells, / In the jangling, / And the wrangling, / How the danger sinks and swells, / By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells—”
Assonance The repetition of a vowel sound ”What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!”
Onomatopoeia The spelling of a word mimics the sound it represents ”How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, / In the icy air of night!”

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows five examples of literary elements in “The Bells”.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify use of literary elements in the text.
  3. Put the type of literary element in the title box.
  4. Give an example from the text in the description box.
  5. Illustrate the example using using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Connecting with the Theme of “The Bells”

Sometimes, it is difficult for students to connect with themes in poetry until they put them into a real-world context. Consider the following activity for students to storyboard with "The Bells".

”The Bells” follows a common example of depicting the life cycle from beginning to end, and it captures the very real fear of growing old and dying that most people face throughout their lives. Have students envision something that scares them: it could be moving on to college, public speaking, forgetting the lines to their part in the school play, or spiders. Have students write a poem about their fear, incorporating elements of repetition and onomatopoeia to enhance their topic .

Cell 1

The alarms are ringing in the field tonight
I can’t see where it’s coming from; I jump with fright.
I look out the window, lightning flashing in the sky,
I know we need to get to the cellar before the winds scream by.

Cell 2

I run to the hall, my parents are pulling on their robes,
I grab the dog and cat, we have to keep up hope.
The worst of it will pass, this time it won’t hit us,
We pull open the root cellar door and descend into the abyss.

Cell 3

The crash and roar of a freight train is overhead,
The door is banging like it might not hold; we’re filled with dread.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh! Crash! Roar! The wind moans,
The wood of the cellar door groans.

Cell 4

The alarm is still whining, but the world is quiet.
We cautiously open the door and look out.
Our house is still standing, our car is okay,
The tornado spared our house for another day.

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Vocabulary Lesson Plan for “The Bells”

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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from “The Bells”. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the poem, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

”The Bells” Vocabulary

  • sledges
  • crystalline
  • runic
  • tintinnabulation
  • rapture
  • alarum
  • turbulency
  • expostulation
  • palpitating
  • monody
  • ghouls
  • pæan

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in “The Bells” by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Brief Synopsis of “The Bells”

The poem is split up into four parts. In the first section, the speaker describes the merry and beautiful tinkling sounds of silver bells. He says that they foretell a world of merriment, and they have a distinct melody. The silver bells are like stars in the sky. In the second section, the speaker describes golden wedding bells. These bells, too, ring out a golden harmony that foretells of a beautiful future for the married couple. The third section changes its tone, focusing on brazen alarm bells. They scream out in terror, and they clang and clash rather than provide a musical quality like the previous sets of bells. There is a definite feeling of despair and fear at the angry sounds of these bells. The fourth section describes tolling iron bells. These bells are menacing and they bring to mind images of ghouls and their wicked king. The iron bells sob, moan, and groan, much like the bells of a churchyard during a funeral.

Essential Questions for “The Bells”

  1. What is the natural cycle of life?
  2. Why are people afraid of growing old and dying?
  3. What are some ways that onomatopoeia can highlight emotions in poetry?
  4. How can the cycle of life be turned into a an allegory?

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